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Scale: The Universal Laws of Life and Death in Organisms, Cities and Companies

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  2,228 ratings  ·  311 reviews

Geoffrey West's research centres on a quest to find unifying principles and patterns connecting everything, from cells and ecosystems to cities, social networks and businesses.

Scale addresses big, urgent questions about global sustainability, population explosion, urbanization, ageing, cancer, human lifespans and the increasing pace of life, but also encourages us to

Kindle Edition, 496 pages
Published May 18th 2017 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (first published May 16th 2017)
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Dec 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fantastic book about scaling laws and how to understand them. Geoffrey West is a theoretical physicist, who has spent a lot of time at the Santa Fe Institute, deriving theoretical scaling laws, and applying them successfully to biology, cities, and companies. He derives the theories from the structure of networks; arteries, capillaries in organisms, social networks and city infrastructure, and companies.

The scaling laws themselves are fascinating. In the very first chapter, Geoffrey
If you are only going to read one book on networks/ systems, let it be this. Whenever a physicist takes on the question of What is Life, like Erwin Schrödinger did in 1944, spectacular things come from it. Physicist Geoffrey West has carried on the Schrödinger tradition and given the world some serious food for thought.

This is probably going to be the longest review I have ever written because this is, without question, one of the most important books I have ever read and is an essential read
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very well done popular science book. Explains concepts of scaling both from cellular, individual, to large system levels. Fascinating analysis on what kind of patterns and general rules we see with scaling in nature but also in human systems (cities, corporations, etc). I did this one in audiobook, kind of wish I'd done it in physical book format so I could have taken more notes/do more underlining. There are a lot of things mentioned in this book that I'd like to read up on and learn more ...more
Clif Hostetler
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Geoffrey West is a physicist who in this book has attempted to provide some modeling tools that will enable understanding and predicting the future directions of "highly complex systems" involving human behavior. He does this by first describing the scaling observations from the study of Allometric growth in the first part of the book, and then in the later parts of the book moving on to the fields of city planning, economics, and business with the assumption that their development and growth is ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
'Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies' surprised me. I learned so much from this book!

Why can we live up to 120 years, but not 1,000? (laws of Thermodynamics)

Why do mice live for up to 2 to 3 years, and elephants live up to 75? (laws of Thermodynamics)

Why do organisms and ecosystems from cells to whales to forests scale with size in a predictable fashion? (Underlying universal math principles of
Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In rating Geoffrey West’s Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies a four star read; I am stating that I liked the book. However I have a lot of sympathy with those who are more critical. In the main I think he is on to something. I enjoyed what was for me an introduction to an effort to fit the laws of physics to other sciences, esp the biological sciences. This may be a very old effort, but the fact of ...more
Dan Graser
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those very rare "big-science" books that actually accomplishes the fiendishly difficult double-act of maintaining a firm grasp on its explanatory power without going overboard into tedious philosophizing while at the same time actually delivering on the broad sweep and revelatory promise of its telos.

Noted physicist, former director of the Santa Fe Institute, and expositor of complexity theory Geoffrey West introduces several concepts of physics, biology, urban development,
Katia N
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
I am a little impartial to this book as it reminded me my uncle who is a nuclear physicist and our conversations in his kitchen whether economics is a science and other very interesting topics (not not directly related to physics). This book is written by the physicist who spent the last 20 years of his career investigating something which is not directly related to physics.

I like how physicists are looking at this world. I sympathise totally with their practical approach and attempts to
Jurgen Appelo
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: complex-systems
Finally, some actual science, rather than opinions, about the issues of scaling complex systems.
Brian Cloutier
This book is frustrating, it has some really cool facts and a lot of his philosophy of science which I mostly appreciated. I feel like I'd really enjoy some of his papers. About 80% of this book is a waste of time though. He repeats himself in nearly every chapter. He frequently goes on 10-page irrelevant tangents. About 100 pages of the chapter on cities talks about sociology; it's framed as historical background which will help you explain his theory. By the end you realize it was just him ...more
Sep 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would have given this 5 stars except it was enough over my head that I couldn't quite grasp all the connotations. The fault is in the telling too at times, it is dry. But so filled with pure gold that you don't mind digging. All of it deposited around the allometric power laws.

This is one of those "what's it all about Alfie" books. But far, far better than most of them are. It is an interdisciplinary approach, strong on the physics. But includes so much of other philosophies or psychology of
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Bloated. Get to the point!
Mengsen Zhang
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Throughout eastern and western philosophy and mysticism, the analogy between one's body and a city has been a cardinal theme, and contemplating on this analogy may be a means to a deeper understanding of the world (e.g. Plato in Republic using this analogy to talk about "justice", or "the city of nine gates" in Hinduism). This kind of cross-scale analogy has stirred up the curiosity of many, including myself.
Remarkably, here Geoffrey West, a theoretical physicist, took a scientific and
Thomas Ray
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bad
Throws lots of ideas at us.

False data. One of his introductory graphs is of company size vs. income. Shows income near $1 million/year for a 1-person company. If true, we'd all do it. For his fraction-of-people-surviving-this-long-vs.-age graphs, he gives us a smooth curve, then a stairstep one, for the same thing--he wants to identify supposed causes of death, so he redraws the curve to fit what he wants to say. Early in the book there's a plot showing all animals have essentially 1 billion
Nov 10, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
For people who don’t know science, this could be an OK introduction to fractals and Galileo and whatnot, but even then the book is just too filled with meandering self-congratulatory anecdotes about the author and random repetitions. There are a few interesting graphs and factoids that are worth pondering. But as other Goodreads reviews have pointed out, there are some problems with those astounding graphs.
One issue is the human lifespan stuff. We live longer than cows (for example) but
Adam Smith
While the concept of a mathematical formulation of biological scaling laws outlined in the first few chapters is interesting, unfortunately I did not like the style of this book and found it increasingly irritating as it went on. Some of things that annoyed me:

Fawning descriptions of people the author has worked with and a general humble brag style of writing.
Excessive use of pretentious words like 'concomitant'
Patronising descriptions of how exponentials work, or pointless examples of basic
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
We live in a complex world. As the author says in the book, the bible is based on "opinions, intuition, and prejudices" and is up to us to determine if "life has meaning or is without purpose". For us to bring order out of the chaos we need a narrative to hold the story together. The author tries to tie together all the items that are in the subtitle of the book into a coherent universal truth about the world by seeing the world as a recursive holistic entity tied together by a scaling parameter ...more
Lew Watts
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I first met Geoff West for coffee in Santa Fe. At the time, I was deeply involved in network theory, principally linked to innovation processes. But what I really wanted was an opportunity to learn the genesis of his landmark series of papers on scaling laws in biology. At the end of this review is a haibun I wrote on the meeting that was published in Contemporary Haibun Online, in April, 2015.
West's early papers, co-authored with James Brown and Brian Enquist, have spawned a myriad of works,
Daniel Frank
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Scale is a very interesting book with a huge amount of insights and fascinating information. Geoffrey West is clearly brilliant. However, the book is pedantic and verbose, and badly needs an editor (which makes it quite humorous that the book was edited by Cormac McCarthy). While many people might enjoy the content of this book, this book is unlikely to be readable by the lay person interested in science due to its complexity and poor writing.

Scaling is an important concept, and I'm glad West
Peter Mcloughlin
Book on scaling and dimensional analysis of biology and social systems. It is very well written and gets into why factors having to do with the size of objects such as cross sections, membranes, and mass constrain and rule over aspects of biology like size, metabolism and life spans of organisms. In the latter half of the book the same dimensional analysis in terms of resource use and social networks and scaling laws guide the fates of cities and corporations. Scaling laws may determine much of ...more
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really fascinating primer (and more) on complexity theory. He talks about the universal rules that govern growth--for people, cities, companies. Bad news for Peter Thiel and the Silicon Valley bros who are trying to overcome dying and some terrible news at the end for humanity. He resurrects some of the Malthusian predictions about population growth. It's a fascinating book and I can't wait to read more from
Complexity scientists. If I have a criticism, it was too long
Leo Walsh
Oct 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely captivating book, Scale by Geoffery West illustrates what science does so well: uncovering the signal, the truth, from the noise.

West applies his physicist's mind, trained in using mathematics to discern patterns hidden in nature, to reveal truths never-expected about biology, urban planning, and economics. Along the way, he addresses some basic maths (like power laws, network theory, fractal geometry and dimensionality, and preferential attachment) for the lay reader.

But what's
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing book with a broad perspective on the statistical foundations of how things are born, grow, and die. Beyond just the life of plants and animals it expands its thinking into the life cycles of economies, corporations, and cities (the last of these apparently being the only immortal entity on the list).

Geoffrey West is a theoretical physicist and former president of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. Ten or fifteen years ago he began to wonder whether the mathematics of his
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Geoffrey West is a prominent and elderly scientist working at the Santa Fe Institute, the centre of interdisciplinary research. This book was easy for the layman to understand and was extensive in scope. It turned out that fractals can explain a lot of complex systems using quite simple equations.

0. Why can't we have a real life Godzilla? The weight increase proportionately with size but the support increases less quickly with size. So a Godzilla will collapse under his own weight.

1. Why do
Sten Tamkivi
A gripping popular science take on mathematical scaling laws of complex systems. From how the lifetime heartbeat count of mammals is virtually a constant, how the surface area of blood vessel connections is related to why Godzilla is not possible, and how all these relatively simple growth curves and ceilings relate to scaling of social organisms (from companies to cities).
Oswaldo De Freitas
Interesting and insightful ideas, but the explanations are repetitive and propagandistic.
I have struggled to finish.
Moreover, the book will need serious revision for the next editions: prof. West have mistaken RPM to express number of turn, efficiency for productivity, productivity for production, and so on. Also some basic concepts were reshaped to support the claimed hidden simple proportions: risk of death is not constant along the life whether the subject is a turtle or a human being;
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating and important book. Before even mentioning the content, this book was written really well, and it was written as to be understandable to the intelligent layperson. The ideas and theories presented are mostly new to me and I learned a lot as a result.

It is really hard to concisely summarize this work, but I'll give it a shot, and I don't promise that my explanations are accurate. Certain aspects of biological organisms seem to follow mathematical laws. For instance with
Peter Gelfan
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In many ways, especially in its basic biology, an elephant is just a giant mouse. Yet their lives are qualitatively very different because of their size disparity. Likewise, a metropolis can be seen as a scaled-up small town, and yet city life has a very different quality than does small-town life. On the other hand, how many times does a mouse’s heart beat in its natural life span? About the same number as an elephant’s—or a whale’s or a human’s.

West’s general approach that led to this book was
Nick Davies
Apr 03, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
This was a mixed bag. I had read several positive reviews of this book - an attempt to apply the laws of scale which dictate biological systems in a more sociological context to explain cities and companies - and it certainly sounded like an interesting concept. Though there were plenty of moments/aspects that I did find enlightening and intriguing, my overall impression was of slight disappointment and frustration with what I felt were problematic with the book.

The main issue was that I was
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Geoffrey West has taken the complex task of interlinking social dynamics, urban development, advancement in science and technology, biological and natural resources, and comes up with a modelling platform that is driven in the way scaling exists in today's ecosystem. While forgoing classical way of linear progression, West introduces different progressions like logarithmic, allometric etc. The engaging text continues to draw examples from predictions made during the 70s by academics (one of the ...more
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Science and Inquiry: November 2017 - Scale 11 95 Dec 25, 2017 10:08PM  

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